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Earth: If you like it, put a ring on it (pictures)

What if Earth had rings like Saturn? Veteran space artist Ron Miller imagines how our sky would differ.

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Tim Hornyak

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Rings over Guatemala

Prolific space and science fiction artist Ron Miller has created a series of illustrations based on an amazing what-if scenario: what if Earth had rings like Saturn?

Actually, for a very brief period Earth may have once had rings. They could have been the result of an impact, billions of years ago, between Earth and a Mars-sized protoplanet called Theia. Debris from the collision coalesced into the moon, according to the giant impact hypothesis.

This illustration shows a view from Earth if our planet had rings that shared the same proportion as Saturn's. From Guatemala, the rings spread across the sky over an ancient temple. Reflected light from Earth, or earthlight, that illuminates the dark side of the moon is much brighter than in reality because of sunlight being reflected from the rings.

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Line over Quito

According to Miller, sky views from the equator on a ringed Earth would look like this: a bright line going from horizon to horizon directly overhead. The setting here is Quito, Ecuador, where an observer would be in the same plane as the rings.
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Land of the 24-hour rings

The view from the Arctic Circle would be very different. The scene here is Nome, Alaska, where Earth's rings give little more light than a full moon. The rings would neither rise nor set, says Miller, and would be visible day and night at the same spot.
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Not your average sky

Miller's illustration of the view in Polynesia on the Tropic of Capricorn is an extraordinary panorama. The large oval in the middle of the ring is Earth's shadow.

"During the course of every night you would be able watch it sweep across the ring like the hand of a God's own wristwatch," Miller writes on sci-fi blog io9.

"Here it is midnight, with the shadow at its fullest extent. The edge of the shadow is tinged an orangish-pink as sunlight passes through the Earth's atmosphere."

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Equinoctial rings 1

During an equinox, when the center of the sun is on the same plane as the Earth's equator, the sky might look like this dramatic scene.

The perspective here is at the equator itself, when the sun intersects the plane of the rings.

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Equinoctial rings 2

Here's another of Ron Miller's visions of Earth with rings during an equinox, with the rings fading nearly midway through the sky. The perspective here is from northern Nevada or Utah.

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